Movement-Moving Machines

Movement-Moving Machines investigates the ways in which dance acts as part of a media ecology and social practice as emotive, intuitive, physical experience and expression without becoming mere representation. Here, dance movement is understood as a social (semi-)improvisational activity, rather than choreographed steps. What is foregrounded is the idea that movement is relational: it produces space-time and emerges in connection with other moving bodies, the space around them and other non-human actors. By causing interference in social dance contexts and systems that might look like well-oiled machines, the relationality of moving bodies and touch as a social gesture is articulated. Potentiality as the crux of movement is highlighted: “My body is not in movement when I still think I can predict my steps” (Manning, Politics of Touch, 2007: 26)

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Movement-Moving Machines aims to provide experiential entrances into an understanding of dance systems as mediated social system. It is a series of contraptions that help investigate the conditions of social dance, music and movement as set by its own materialities, not just meaning and representation. By intervening in the conventions and material relations of a number of dance settings, these useless machines speculate about the politics of dance and touch, the connections we can or cannot make with other bodies and how these are materialized and sustained. But more importantly, how we may cause ruptures in these systems to open them up to a different critique and a more open-ended future.

 

This was my final research project for the MA Interactive Media: Critical Theory and Practice I did at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2009-2010. It was exhibited in summer 2010 at the final show, We Are All Transistors.

 

1.  DISTRIBUTED SOUND SYSTEM

This contraption is a system that invites to dance. We are…

on a dance floor or stage with a stranger or a friend, the dancing shoes await us. We are wired up into a machine that sets one condition: we have to commit to enter into a physical connection with each other. A sound system is put in place that plays music only as long as we are willing to connect and move our bodies in close proximity. The music is sent into my body’s flesh by a metal patch in a wrist band, skin on skin I transfer the music to you. But we don’t dance on thin air, it is the gravity of our bodies that connects us to the flour and through the wet floor to each other, it literally grounds us and makes the dance possible, putting us on the same material plane of experience as moving human bodies in space-time.
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Execution
Both dancers where modified tap dancing shoes. The metal patch under the tap shoes are connected to the negative end or ground of a portable speaker on one dancer’s waist, and an ipod on the other dancer. By standing on a wet rug together, the dancers are ‘grounded’ on the same circuit. Both wear a wrist band with a metal patch that touches their skin. The metal patches are wired to the positive ends of the ipod on the one dancer and the speaker on the other. In their flesh they carry the music and when they touch, they complete the circuit: they can dance to the music played through the portable speaker.
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View documentation of the research here:
Experiment 1.0-1.2 conducting sounds through the skin
Experiment 1.3 options to lose constricting wires for dancers
Experiment 2.0 using a wet rug, prototyping, testing
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2. DANCE TERRITORIES: SOUNDSCAPE
This contraption comments on the organization of space on a dance floor. Depending on where you are in space, you will hear a different kind of salsa or latin music (meringue, bachata, cuban salsa, the politically engaged salsa dura (commenting on life in El Barrio, NY) or the lighter salsa romantica. With every step you take, you might end up in a different ‘dance territory’ having to adjust your dance accordingly, or not..
In a salsa club, bodies are distributed and organized in certain ways. Advanced dancers may sometimes dance in the middle of the dance floor and/or close to the bar, and as the evening progresses, beginners may move to the periphery of the dance space more and more. Dancers should dance ‘small’ occupying as little space as possible, or an advanced couple may occupy more space, teasing other dancers into stepping aside and watch their moves.
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Salsa has a history of being a very dispersed musical genre and dance style. Its roots are heavily contested and constantly negotiated. It is literally a mashup of different styles and genres coming together, connected to a wave of immigration from latin american countries to New York, where a latin community quickly emerged in El Barrio, right next to black Harlem. Although salsa’s history was only possible through the relocation of bodies, mixing of nationalities, musical and sexual ‘contamination’ its alleged roots are continuously forced back into the ‘true’ salsa, the ‘real’ roots in Cuba (Salsa Cubana), Puerto Rico, Columbia (Cali style) or Africa maybe? Where salsa is often promoted as a national product. But even on the dance floor, in dance and conversation, the politics of roots are audible and visible in rhythms, movements, and how they are valued, segregated, contained or celebrated.

Execution

A number of FM transmitters (the ones often used in cars, with a transmission span of about 3-5 meters) is placed around the dance space. They are all connected to an iPod that plays a certain kind of latin music. They are all tuned in to exactly the same frequency, so they interfere with each other at the borders of their reach. One of the dancers carries a portable FM radio on a belt, that is tuned into this frequency. As the dancers move around the room they will experience the jerky, sudden changes in music that confused their flow continuously. Bodies may interfere with the radio signals that are very unpredictable, making it impossible to control during the dance what music you will be hearing. The delineation of the dance territories are never stable, constantly shifting, being negotiated by the space of bodies, their direction, their disturbing flesh.

For more documentation on the soundscape, see this post.


Art Projects, Dance, Projects